With the Vineyard’s population swelling to nearly 200,000 during the season, the tourist industry is a major economic factor, and tour companies are doing a booming business.
“Our Island tour companies do an excellent job helping to provide a quality experience for the thousands of tourists visiting the Island,” said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the MV Chamber of Commerce. “Tours are often the first thing people do when arriving and they are by far the most visited queries by phone, on our site, and walk-ins to our office. They are a window into the Island and they offer a terrific welcome.”
Types of tours, depending on the company, vary in content, location, length, price, and can be standard or personalized, group, or private. Content can include general, history, celebrity, or specific sites such as the Aquinnah Cliffs, Gingerbread Houses, lighthouses, or the MV Museum. Most tours cover all six towns, while some operate just down-Island. Lengths run from two-hours to a full day and prices range from $33 for a large group standard tour all the way up to a $1,000 for a private customized experience. Reservations are required by some but not all companies.
The MV Chamber of Commerce is one of the places that people find out about Island touring options. All of these companies are members of the MVCC. The Chamber does a good job keeping their referrals equitable. Some visitors request a tour ASAP and the MVCC helps out by quickly finding out who has a tour at the right time and available space. Gardella, who is passionate about serving both visitors and Chamber members, believes “All of the tour companies have people out meeting ferries, making sure their staff is well trained, and responding to the needs of their customers. They are an enterprising bunch. It seems to me that over the last few years, the bar has been raised.”
The most visible tour company is MV Sightseeing, which owns the brightly painted fleet of “school” buses and the Island’s only trolleys. Scott Dario, whose father acquired a tour company by default in 1987 (it came along with Dario senior’s purchase of his second gas station), has run MV Sightseeing since the late 1990s. This company works on volume, with buses seating 43 and trolleys seating 28. It’s the everyman tour, needing no reservations and at $33 per person, a low price point. Charters are available, and the trolleys do a fine custom wedding business. Daria, who understands what’s working, while keeping his eyes open (like his father) to new ideas, has acquired other smaller tour companies along the way. “Our business is seasonal,” he says “and it’s affected more by mother nature than the economy. If it’s raining we know we’ll have a slow day. There’s no standard for our booking numbers, they change week-to-week, month-to- month. The most important thing is that we give people an entertaining, professional experience, as we’re often the initial ambassadors for the Island. We have many repeat customers, which hopefully means we’re doing something right.”
Another highly successful tour company is owned by Teri and Ralf Pirozzi, who say “We service transportation needs of all kinds, for all kinds of visitors, including group, private, and customized tours, private-car service, and event transportation. Our goal is to ensure a quality, quintessential Vineyard experience for our guests.” The Pirozzis have two companies, each with a different profile: Resort Man and MV Tours and Transport. Resort Man is their high-end brand, and offers livery transportation with a fleet of over 18 luxury SUVs, providing 24/7 transportation needs for weddings and other events. Along with this transportation service, Resort Man provides private tours, with luxury pricing along with luxury service. These tours, right from the first contact are personally curated and quite unique.
Their second brand, MV Tours and Transport, is a tour company for small groups using a fleet of vans and minibuses. Shared tours can accommodate up to 14 people, and there are various options available, such as Family Fun Tour, African American Heritage Tour, or MV Jaws Tour. Along with shared, pre-arranged tours, MV Tours and Transport can also accommodate private tours. Standard offerings begin at $40 per person. The Pirozzis, in both of their businesses, stress personal service for their customers, and work with “mobile mechanic” Wesley Cezario, without whom things wouldn’t “go” — another important factor when running a transportation/tour company.
For information about touring Martha’s Vineyard, visit the MV Chamber of Commerce at mvy.com or 24 Beach Street, Vineyard Haven, or call 508-693-0085 / 800-505-4815.